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Kantika | O Maria Virgo

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Classical: Early Music Classical: Medieval Moods: A Cappella
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O Maria Virgo

by Kantika

Five female singers from different countries perform a vibrant reconstruction of a two-part mass from the 13th century Cistercian abbey Las Huelgas.
Genre: Classical: Early Music
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Maria Virgo Virginum
3:50 $0.99
2. Rosa Das Rosas
5:17 $0.99
3. Salve Sancta Parens
6:52 $0.99
4. Kyrie Eleison Rex Virginum
4:15 $0.99
5. Gloria
4:46 $0.99
6. Benedicta Et Venerabilis
7:09 $0.99
7. Alleluia Salve Virgo Mater Dei
2:10 $0.99
8. Stabat Iuxta
5:05 $0.99
9. Recordare Virgo Mater
3:09 $0.99
10. Sanctus
3:19 $0.99
11. Agnus dei gloriosa spes reorum
2:25 $0.99
12. Beata Viscera Mariae Virginis
5:43 $0.99
13. Benedicamus Domino Cum Cantico
2:07 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
O Maria virgo florata nigi stillans dilue - O virgin Mary of flowers, chase the snow away

« O Maria Virgo » is a reconstruction of a two-part mass as the female Cistercians of the 13th and 14th century abbey Santa Maria of Las Huelgas might have sung. Most of the chants can be traced to a parchment manuscript of Las Huelgas containing 45 monodic and 141 polyphonic compositions. The corpus of chants, even though it is not an explicit liturgical collection, might well have been used for important feasts during the liturgical year. The four monodic plancti from the collection were probably performed during funerals of the Royal family. For this recording we have chosen both liturgical and para-liturgical chants for the nativity of Mary: troped and polyphonic chants for the ordinary (Kyrie eleison, Sanctus, Agnus dei) and for the proper (Alleluia, gradual, offertory), a three-part Benedicamus domino as well as two hymns for Mary.
The important collection of chants from Las Huelgas is outstanding in mediaeval music tradition and shows many different styles of this time between ars antiqua and ars nova. There are chants in the style of Aquitanian polyphony with their two-part tropes or organa from the Notre-Dame school of Paris, two of the oldest polyphonic chant traditions in the 11th and 12th centuries which have been transmitted in manuscripts. Otherwise there are monodic and polyphonic chants in honour of the virgin showing a highly original style from the Las Huelgas Cistercian abbey. The programme is completed by Gregorian chants from the 11th-century Gaillac gradual (BNF lat. 776), Aquitanian monasteries being very closely related to Christian communities on the Iberian Peninsula. The Abbey Santa Maria la Real of Las Huelgas was one of the most important Castilian monasteries and a cultural centre during the Middle Ages where Cistercian nuns have been living for centuries. The chant manuscript can be considered a document of that high period. Although the Cistercian ideals of sobriety and purity seem not to be followed completely in this abbey, the female members of the royal family retired to the convent for a contemplative life and daily liturgical chant with the community.
On the recording, the mass starts with the two-part prosa Maria virgo virginum, a strophic composition in the typical conductus style of Las Huelgas. Then, we inserted the beautiful cantiga de Santa Maria Rosa das rosas like a small meditation. This cantiga is noted in the 13th century codex B.1.2. from El Escorial, an impressive collection of Maria-chants in Gallician language collected at the court of Alfonso X the Wise of Castile. After that the introitus Salve sancta parens in plagal d-mode from the Aquitanian manuscript Gaillac BNF lat. 776 follows. The small trope Virgo dei genitrix has been inserted before the first psalm verse Eructavit cor meum and comes back later during the graduale as verse. The two-part Kyrie eleison from Las Huelgas with its trope Rex virginum shows the characteristic style of the Parisian Notre-Dame school. The Gregorian Gloria has been taken from the aquitanian Saint-Yrieix gradual BNF lat. 903. One of the most interesting compositions of this mass is the gradual Benedicta et venerabilis, a knowing mixture of a plainchant from Gaillac with a two-part organum from Las Huelgas. The first word Benedicta and part of the verse Virgo dei genitrix are sung in two parts to mark the high importance of the liturgical occasion. A beautiful two-part alleluia with its verse Salve virgo mater dei shows the simple but very elegant crossing and folding of the two voices. Then the hymn Stabat iuxta Christi crucem, a magnificent monodic plaint of a musical style which is typical of the Cistercian convent in Las Huelgas, is to be
heard, and the two-part offertory Recordare virgo mater in the Las Huelgas-organum-style with three double-strophic tropes at the end. The polyphonic Sanctus to follow, also for two voices, seems to announce the new style of the 14th c. ars nova with its rhythmical rather independent parts. Agnus dei is a plainchant with two polyphonic tropes of Aquitanian style with voice crossing, whereas the second trope O Maria virgo has inspired the title of the recording. The mass closes with the communion Beata viscera Maria in d-mode from the gradual of Gaillac and the troped Benedicamus domino Cum cantico cum iubilo. This Benedicamus domino from Las Huelgas is the only three-part chant of this recording and a solemn ending of the programme with its reprise of the Deo gratias.
Kristin Hoefener

Las Huelgas – the word may stand for a place of rest, but even more probably a pasture. The royal monastery, having been mentioned since 1187, is situated at the river Arlanzón, near Burgos. A foundation of the king of Castile Alfonso VIII (1158-1214) and his wife Eleanor, the monastery has a double function: a place for the infants and ladies of the high aristocracy and a pantheon of the royal family. The convent was officially incorporated into Cîteaux in 1199, but continued to play a very important role among the dozen or so female Cistercian convents in the kingdom. Eleanor, daughter of the great Eleanor of Aquitaine, sister of Jean sans terre and Richard the lionhearted, mother of Blanca of Castile and grandmother of Saint Louis, had an outstanding role during this promotion of the female monasticism which might have been inspired by Fontevraud.
The celebrity of Las Huelgas in mediaeval monasticism has to do with the exceptional power of its abbess, who reigned over a large territory by giving permits to preach, to confess, to celebrate and even by installing priests herself. This, coming little by little, was a rather astonishing range of power for a woman in that period. From at least the end of the 12th c. this power in the spiritual domain, in a church completely dominated by men, provoked several scandals. In this context, we can understand the reasons of the condemnation of the abbesses in the dioceses of Burgos and Palencia, blessing their own nuns and “having the presumption to preach the gospel in public”, by pope Innocent III in 1210. The pope reminded them that “even if the virgin Mary has been worthier and more excellent than all the apostles, it has not been to her that the Lord handed over the keys of the kingdom of heaven”. Officially, all the female monasteries dependent on Las Huelgas had to send their representatives to a general chapter resembling the one held in Cîteaux. The Las Huelgas congregation acted partially like an autonomic Cistercian congregation which was unknown in the church until then.
As the centuries passed, the Las Huelgas monastery continued to play an important role for the Castilian monarchs. Ferdinand III, Alfonso XI, Henry II and John I were armed there as knights in a particular original ceremony with a statue of Saint James. Other kings, such as Alfonso X, Alfonso XI and John II were crowned in Las Huelgas. We also know about very solemn marriages celebrated there, like the one between the infant Fernando de la Cerda and Blanca of France, daughter of Louis IX. As a place of staging for the royal power, the Las Huelgas monastery is also an example of artistic syncretism. The sepulchres of the kings, queens, princes and princesses of royal blood were often decorated on the inside with sumptuous oriental tapestries. In the church was also kept a magnificent banner, told to be the one taken from the Moslems by the Christians during the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. One of the chapels called Claustrillas, constructed at the very beginning of the foundation, showed the Almohad style in all its purity. And, of course, the music occupied a place of honour in this permanent expression of beauty destined for the glory of the Lord and the kings.
Patrick Henriet
Professor for Mediaeval history at the University of Bordeaux III

The vocal ensemble KANTIKA is concentrating on sacred mediaeval music and has steadily widened its repertoire over the years. Focussing on the roots of western mediaeval music, KANTIKA’s research includes the cult of local saints as well as forgotten liturgies. The unique musical style of KANTIKA combines the soul of early chants with a refined contemporary sound presented in buildings of exceptional architecture.
The vocal ensemble KANTIKA specializes in various mediaeval repertoires and has contributed to the revival of the music from this period by the lively interpretation of its singers, each with her own personality. Concerts invite the listeners to a journey into the past, into the universe of a mediaeval monastery, a cathedral or a royal court where time flowed more slowly, according to different rhythms where one sang incessantly the praises of God and Love. KANTIKA connects both, a historical approach to the original manuscripts and a vocal research enriched by each singer’s personal background. Sacred music is performed in its liturgical context, the historical order of the office being respected. Different versions of the same chants are compared; later versions notated on lines help to understand the older ones. All our programmes are performed from facsimile editions.
KANTIKA performs sacred mediaeval music in authentic acoustics, and this is the reason why the ensemble recorded their third CD in the Cistercian Abbey of Mortain, Normandy. The Abbaye Blanche , founded in the 12th c., seems a perfect choice for this programme with Cistercian music. Kadri Hunt, from Estonia, is a special guest for these recordings.

This recording presents an intriguing programme of particular interest to musicians and musicologists working in the field of early sacred music. It contains all the items of a traditional mass, most of them coming from two early sources, which take the listener on a journey covering a wide area of time and space (…). Two manuscripts have caught their eye (or should I say ear?): the Codices from Gaillac in France and from las Huelgas in Spain. The Ensemble kantika have focused the attention of the singers more particularly on one important manuscript, the Codex Las Huelgas, dating from 1300. Its original home was in the region of Burgos, Santa Maria La Real de Las Huelgas. The recording presents more than one striking feature, the first being its ambitus. Another characteristic is its low pitch (…) but its most characteristic feature is the feminine tone quality. It slides gracefully from one pitch to another with a gentle legato, rarely heard today. The group’s guest singer, Kadri Hunt from Estonia, displays to perfection the female vocal quality I would have associated with Spanish singers – low and somewhat growly with glowing upper partials. (…) We have here a recording of considerable historic interest. Mary Berry, Grammophone 2008

« Attention, expérience extrême. Les chantres féminins de Kantika proposent ce qui peut se faire de plus déroutant dans l’exploration actuelle du chant ecclésiastique du haut Moyen Age...Ensembles homogènes, interventions solistes très typées, timbres naturels combinés aux plus fines sophistications…: Kantika s’impose d’abord par la palette de ses possibilités ».
Xavier Bisaro, Diapason June 2005

- « L’ensemble Kantika, conduit avec souplesse par Kristin Hoefener, traduit [textes et mélodies] avec une ferveur retenue. Le chant est éclairé par un sens de l’ornementation, puisé aux sources de la tradition byzantine, que les chanteuses utilisent avec discrétion. »
François Camper, Classica Répertoire January2005



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